- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s top business, agricultural and government leaders are joining the fight to end the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

According to a recently formed advocacy group, lifting the 50-year-old trade embargo could be an economic boon to the Gem State, but that won’t happen without help from the business community and legislators.

Engage Cuba on Thursday in Boise announced the launch of Engage Cuba Idaho State Council. So far, 10 other groups have been formed in primarily Republican-dominated states since last year. More groups are expected to pop up over the next few months.

The Idaho council is a group of state agriculture, business, finance, manufacturing, education and government officials who seek to build congressional support for lifting the embargo. Members include the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Potato Commission, the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and United Dairymen of Idaho.

“It really is a unique matchup between Idaho and Cuba. It feels like a real opportunity, but we’re restricted from doing business,” said Skip Oppenheimer, a Boise businessman.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is chairing the group, who has visited Cuba several times including leading a trade mission in 2007. The Republican governor joined eight other governors in urging Congress to lift the trade restrictions in a letter sent in October.

“My travels to Cuba convince me that the people there have the same goals, the same ambitions and the same needs as we do here in Idaho,” Otter said in a prepared statement. “We both want more freedom.”

Only Congress can lift the embargo, but it’s unknown when that might happen. Some lawmakers have been against ending the embargo because of human rights violation charges by the Castro government. However, on Thursday, the U.S government tentatively approved scheduled commercial airline service to Havana from 10 American cities.

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